Current cellular facts allow us to follow the link from chemical to biochemical metabolites, from the ancient to the modern world. In this context, the “RNA world” hypothesis proposes that early in the evolution of life, the ribozyme was responsible for the storage and transfer of genetic information and for the catalysis of biochemical reactions. Accordingly, the hammerhead ribozyme (HHR) and the hairpin ribozyme belong to a family of endonucleolytic RNAs performing self-cleavage that might occur during replication. Furthermore, regarding the widespread occurrence of HHRs in several genomes of modern organisms (from mammals to small parasites and elsewhere), these small ribozymes have been regarded as living fossils of a primitive RNA world. They fold into 3D structures that generally require long-range intramolecular interactions to adopt the catalytically active conformation under specific physicochemical conditions. By studying viroids as plausible remains of ancient RNA, we recently demonstrated that they replicate in non-specific hosts, emphasizing their adaptability to different environments, which enhanced their survival probability over the ages. All these results exemplify ubiquitous features of life. Those are the structural and functional versatility of small RNAs, ribozymes, and viroids, as well as their diversity and adaptability to various extreme conditions. All these traits must have originated in early life to generate novel RNA populations.
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